IRIN Focus on coastal erosion

Dope Teko remembers the time when the fishermen used to set out from Gbetsogbe and return hours later, their canoes laden with fish which she and other women from the village would then smoke and sell.

“Times were good then, but things changed after the ‘road’ grew out of the sea,” she tells IRIN. Her son, Yao Adamadogbe, explains that what she is referring to is a ridge of stone about 20 metres from the beach. It first appeared sometime in the 1980s, he says.

Erosion along much of the Togolese coast has caused former beaches to be cemented by calcite into a crest of sedimentary rock called beachrock, Adote Blivi of Togo’s Centre de Gestion Integree du Littoral et de l’Environnement (Centre for the Integrated Management of the Coast and the Environment) told IRIN.

The erosion followed the construction of Lome Port in the late 1960s. The works included building a 1,820-metre long protective jetty to block the waves and the sand they transport and thus create a calm stretch of deep water in which the ships could dock, Blivi said.

However, this disrupted the natural pattern of sand movement along the coast.

Normally, the waves take sand from the coast and deposit it on beaches further to the east. By trapping sand behind it, the jetty prevented the areas east of it from receiving their normal supply of sand. At the same time, however, the waves still dragged sand from these areas and swept it along in the direction of Benin.

Under a project funded by the Caisse francaise de developpement (French
development fund) jetties were placed in 1988 near strategic economic sites:
the town of Aneho, near the border with Benin, and around Kpeme, 33 km east of Lome and site of a phosphate treatment plant. These jetties, along with a breakwater built around the same time near Aneho, protect about 15 km of the Togolese coast. In these areas, erosion has been checked.

The Office Togolais des Phosphates (OTP), the local phosphate company, has been working to protect the coast at Agbodrafo, a large village near Kpeme where many of the OTP’s workers live, by dumping phosphate residue (the clayey mixture left after the ore is washed to extract the phosphates) onto them. While this is not a permanent solution, the area’s beaches have been relatively stable for the past five or six years, Blivi said.

Elsewhere erosion continues. “Between 1985 and 2000, the Togolese coast has receded at an average rate of 10 metres per year,” Blivi told IRIN. The affected area, which comprises mainly the cantons of Baguida and Agbodrafo, is about 25 km to 30 km long and the amount of land lost each year is about 30 ha, he added. Some 40,000 people live in the area, which is a strip of land usually little more than 1-2 km wide lying mostly between the sea and a network of lagoons just north of it.

In some villages, life has changed dramatically, as in Gbetsogbe, which is about two km east of Lome.

Once the beachrock appeared in Gbetsogbe, villagers could no longer fish close to the shore or drag their nets onto the beach since the rocks tore them to shreds. They had to fish in deeper water and haul the catch onto the boats before returning to the shore, which meant that they could no longer go out in the small canoes many of them used.

Some of the fishermen formed cooperatives, pooling their resources and buying bigger boats. However, they land the fish at Lome Port, Yao Adamadogbe said, only taking back a little to their homes in the villages. Some have had to switch to lagoon fishing. Others have become nomadic fishermen: they travel to Benin, work there for two to three weeks, return home, stay a few days and then they are off again.

All this has had a telling effect on communities. There used to be 64 coastal fishing villages in Togo. Now there are only 22, Blivi said. Many villages have moved further inland, sometimes settling on land belonging to other communities. In many cases, the settlements are only temporary so instead of building solid homes, the newcomers live in precarious structures.

Some of the former fisherfolk are unemployed. Others have switched to market gardening or other occupations. Some of the women harvest gravel from the sea. They scoop up sand and pebbles from shallows close to the beach, winnow it to get rid of the sand, then sort the gravel according to size. It is then sold to building contractors who mix it with cement and use it as concrete or to plaster walls.

But for Dope, gravel is no substitute for smoked fish. “Those heaps have been there for two months and we haven’t been able to sell them yet,” she said, pointing to nearby mounds of pebbles. “Sometimes they remain there for six months.”